The BBC America drama series Copper – from Academy Award-winner Barry Levinson, Emmy-winner Tom Fontana and Academy Award-nominee Will Rokos – is set in 1864, at a time when disorder and mayhem were the law of the land, and New York City was filled with intrigue, corruption, mystery and murder. Actor Tom Weston-Jones (MI-5) plays Detective Kevin Corcoran, a rugged Irish immigrant cop, who seeks justice for the powerless in the notorious immigrant neighborhood of Five Points. The show also stars Franka Potente, Anastasia Griffith, Kyle Schmid, Ato Essandoh, Kevin Ryan, Dylan Taylor, Kiara Glasco, Tanya Fischer and Tessa Thompson.
In this exclusive interview with Collider, Tom Weston-Jones talked about how he came to be a part of the show, the physical challenges of the role, the cinematic feel and detail, adapting to the style of dialogue and accent, the moral ambiguity of the characters, how supportive and collaborative the cast is of each other, and how he’s hoping he’ll get to explore the character for future seasons. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
TOM WESTON-JONES: I was filming a series in Budapest, called World Without End, which has yet to come out. I heard about it, probably a month before starting that job, and that job was six months. My agent hadn’t put me up for it, or anything like that. I actually helped my friend put himself on tape for it, for Corcoran. And then, three weeks after that, I got the script and had a read of it, and put myself on tape. I got a phone call saying, “You’ve gotta come to New York for a screen test, as soon as you finish in Budapest.” I was like, “Woah, that’s really big!” I’m still in awe of it all. I’m still very new. I feel really, really lucky to stand next to people like Barry [Levinson] and Tom [Fontana], and the actors that are involved. It’s all quite surreal. But from there, I went and did the screen test, and I was convinced I didn’t get it. It’s been a blast, since then. It’s been amazing! I hate using that word “blast.” It makes me sound like I’m 14. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun.
Did you have any indication of what you’d have to go through for this role?
WESTON-JONES: No, not really. When we got to Toronto to shoot it, by that point, I had read the first two scripts. We had no idea where the story was going to go, but I love physical stuff. I love jumping in and getting my nose bloody, and all that stuff. I don’t really mind it. I think that, if you don’t come out with a few cuts and scrapes, you haven’t really been putting the effort it. But then again, it can get serious and you can break an arm, and that’s terrible. I was aware that shit was going to hit the fan, but I wasn’t sure when that would happen. I go through a hell of a lot. I knew that the potential of the show was amazing because all these characters are capable of so many different things, and of good or bad acts, whatever you perceive those to be. Everyone’s moral compass is a little bit different in it. I knew that the possibilities were endless.
WESTON-JONES: It’s got qualities of a very cinematic piece, but equally, it gets very detailed, in terms of how deep it goes into the scene. The camera work is very fly-on-the-wall, at certain points. Instead of being something that’s simply observing, it’s actually getting involved, which I really, really like about it. It’s on-the-shoulder and gets very up-close-and-personal with what’s happening.
Was this dialogue easy for you to say, or did you have to get used to it?
WESTON-JONES: It’s very specific. You know that something is really well written when you have to think so little about the words that are coming out of your mouth and you’re able to dwell in your own headspace to get there. It’s very easy to recall and remember because it’s written so well. A big thing, in the beginning, was the accent because we went for an American-Irish blend, which I was kind of dubious about when we started. I wanted to just do an Irish accent, but talking to Tom and Barry and Perry [Simon], who’s the head of BBC America, about what his accent would have been, we isolated it to him surrounding himself with so many different kinds of people that his accent is a big hodge-podge. At first, I had a lot of people listening to what I was doing, just to make sure that it was on the nose. By the end of it, it was just second nature and just rolled off the tongue. That’s true with the dialogue, as well. It’s very otherworldly, but it didn’t seem old-timey, like it was trying to be something that it wasn’t.
WESTON-JONES: What really drew me to this was the moral ambiguity and the greyness that everyone has with their choices, and with their idea of what good and evil is. It’s so much more fun to play someone who’s flawed and has contradictions within themselves, and that’s exactly what Corcoran is. He’s not a hero. He’s not an anti-hero. He’s a mixture of different things, and it’s ambiguous. That’s so much fun to play because it makes you real and it makes you more realistic. No one is black and white. Everyone has a mixture. It’s something that every character has, and Corcoran definitely has a lot of that.
How has it been to work with this ensemble cast and play out all of these interesting relationships?
WESTON-JONES: Each one of them is very different, with where they’ve come from. We all come from very different walks of life – each of the actors here – but we all get on so bloody well. It’s very varied in age, in where we come from, and everything. What I loved was that everyone seemed so supportive, from the get-go, and were willing to talk about and collaborate on and pull things apart and really examine who they were. That’s a real blessing, when you go into a job and can be like, “Oh, everyone’s nice. That’s brilliant!” Everyone’s in it for the right reasons. I see a film or a TV series or a play as being this machine. It sounds quite robotic, in its description, but it’s basically a machine and you’re just one of the cogs that goes in it. You’re not the biggest one, and you’re not the smallest one. Everyone’s the same size. And if you just fit in together, with the guys behind the camera, with the guys doing the props and the actors, and it comes together, it can be amazing. But then again, nothing that’s been worth watching was easy to make. They were all fucking hard! And this was hard, at times. It was very stressful. But, everyone had their head screwed on, in doing it.
WESTON-JONES: Obviously, Corcoran is a detective and he has a lot of things on his plate, when it comes to dealing with the every day of Five Points. But, my favorite points in the story are when he becomes affected by this obsession that he has with his daughter and his wife, and their story, and him trying to find out any information that he can. That’s when you see him at his most vulnerable. In stripping the archetypal ideas of a big, tough boxer and war hero, and really getting to the point where you can feel him being hurt, and see someone breaking apart a bit and losing their mind, not knowing what control is anymore and overstepping the mark, that’s what I really enjoyed. Really seeing him fray at the edges is what I liked.
Was the relationship between Corcoran and Freeman (Ato Essandoh) fun to explore?
WESTON-JONES: Yeah. It’s an interesting one because it’s not necessarily like a best friend, but it’s someone who you could say is a brother. They both fully are aware of the social stigma of a black man being friends with an Irish person, or vice versa. It’s interesting because they’re treading on eggshells sometimes, and then, suddenly, they really hit home with each other and they get on and actually enjoy the differences that each other have. I think what they both have in common is that they fucking hate bullies. That is where they come together and really embrace one another. And me and Ato [Essandoh] are quite different, as well. He’s a vegan. He’s incredibly stacked, and a very physical guy.
I put on loads of weight for the part and tried to get as big as I could, but me, in my normal time, I like bacon sarnies, I smoke and I drink coffee. I do look after myself, but sometimes I allow myself to just let go a bit. We would sit there on set, and he’d be meditating with a green tea, while I had a bacon sandwich and a cigarette like, “We are very different people.” But, we get on really, really well. He’s a lovely guy to work with. He’s a real gentleman. Some of the scenes that we have, I really enjoyed the interaction that we had. Corcoran is kind of a clumsy oaf, and Freeman is actually the more intelligent of the two and more of a gentleman than Corcoran, which people would not have said. During that time, people would not have said that the African American man is actually more of a gentry than the Irish guy, although the Irish were still considered to be quite rough around the edges, anyway. But, I love what he’s doing with Freeman. I think he’s great.
WESTON-JONES: Definitely, yeah! I think it’s one of the most interesting characters that I’ve been lucky enough to play. Something that I thought of awhile ago is how lucky a lot of TV actors are, like [James] Gandolfini in The Sopranos, who played the same person for years and years. It can either be a curse or a blessing, depending on what the part is. If you don’t necessarily like the job, it could be pretty horrible. But with Corcoran, and just with the entire show, there’s so much to be said and done that I would be really disappointed, if we didn’t go again. I would, genuinely, be really upset just because it’s so much fun when we actually get to do it.
Is there resolution to the stories that you’re telling in the first season, or is it left somewhat open?
WESTON-JONES: A mixture of different things happen because the story isn’t necessarily written like a story. It’s not written with a beginning, middle and end, and that’s where it’s all finished. It’s like everyday life. It’s Coen Brothers-esque, in the sense that life goes on and there’s no such thing as an ending, it just continues differently. Although this isn’t like a Coen Brothers film, a lot of stuff is left open, and in a very different way than you actually imagine it will unfold and play out. It doesn’t actually happen at all in the way that I imagined it would, which is brilliant. It’s so nice to get a surprise.
Copper airs on Sunday nights on BBC America.